Christmas Markets in Germany

By Karen Shambaugh Rink

It is that time of year again:  the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets) begin in Germany and other European countries during the four weeks before Christmas.  They are so popular that you will find these markets in large and small cities, indoor or outdoor, at schools, in churches, in clubs, in barns, in castles, just everywhere!  If you have ever gone to one, you know just how beautiful, exciting, and how much fun it is to walk around the market under the sparkling, festive lights and admire all of the beautiful stands with the many handmade products and specialty foods. 

The whole atmosphere is exciting, full of expectation and fun for the holidays.  People of all ages love to visit the Christmas Market, especially parents bring their small children to experience the magic of the holidays and to continue the family tradition of visiting or participating in some way in the event.

The fresh, crisp air of November and December adds to the excitement, along with the scent of pine trees and boughs decorating the stands, plus the handmade Advent wreaths for sale.  Walking through the market, it is easy to find handmade gifts for everyone on your shopping list such as knit wool socks and hats, Schmuck (jewelry), scarves, wood or leather items, knit sweaters, Christmas ornaments of straw, wood or glass, Scherenschnitterei (paper cutting), Bauernmalerei (hand-painted objects), locally produced honey and beeswax candles, wooden Nutcrackers, Pyramids, Smokers, Candle Arches (some of these items are available for purchase at our own stand at the Continental Congress Units Overseas Luncheon), and much more.

The scent of Glühwein (warm mulled wine) easily attracts many people as does the scent of Zimtwaffeln (cinnamon cookies) made on site.  Of course, the typical bratwurst with mustard and beer are available, but there are specialty foods, such as Maronen (hot chestnuts), Baumstriezel (a pastry), Wildschwein-Goulasch (wild boar stew), Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Gebrannte Mandeln (sugar-coated almonds), Lebkuchen (ginger bread) in all sizes and shapes, Schokolade (chocolate), Bretzeln (pretzels), Christstollen (similar to fruit cake), waffles, crêpes, and many other sweets and specialties.

Each Christmas Market is a bit different from the others by featuring local history or specialties, some offer entertainment such as carousels for children, choirs and musical performances; even the arrival of Nikolaus (Santa Claus) is exciting for visitors of all ages.

The city of Köln (Cologne) has several Weihnachtsmärkte with the most well-known being located in front of the famous Cathedral (one of the tallest in the world, it was built in 1247) and draws over 4 million visitors each year to the 150 stands in the Roncalliplatz.

Dresden has been hosting The Striezelmarkt, considered the first genuine Christmas market in the world,  founded in 1434, and celebrated its 585th anniversary in 2019.  This market attracts about 3 million visitors from all over the world, it has 240 stands, and boasts the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid. 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a medieval walled city which dates from 1274 and has been hosting a Weihnachtsmarkt for 500 years.  Rothenburg is also the home of the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store.

How did these markets get started?  Our story begins in the late Middle Ages in parts of the former Holy Roman Empire.  The precursor to Christmas markets is thought to be Vienna’s Dezembermarkt (December Market), dating back to around 1296. Emperor Albrecht I granted shopkeepers the rights to hold a market for a day or two in early winter so that townspeople could stock up on supplies to last through the cold months.

Wintermärkte (winter markets) began to spring up all over Europe.  Over time, local families started setting up stalls to sell baskets, toys, and woodcarvings alongside others selling almonds, roasted chestnuts, and gingerbread. These were often bought as gifts to give away at Christmas.  It was the winter markets that eventually became known as Christmas Markets—the earliest of which are claimed to be in Germany:  Munich in around 1310, Bautzen in 1384, and Frankfurt in 1393. Footnote: 1

Some of the most famous Weihnachtsmärkte in Germany are found in Köln (Cologne), Dresden, Berlin, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Aachen, Nuremberg, Munich, Hamburg, and Schloss Guteneck. Footnote:2

Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 virus, most Christmas markets will not take place this year.  Several markets will hold drive-thru and pick-up service or online ordering of certain products, but we all hope things will get back to normal next year.

So that you can enjoy that special Weihnachts-feeling, click on this link to hear beautiful Christmas music:  

and enjoy these virtual Christmas market tours here:

We wish you the very BEST of the Christmas season and especially good health in 2021.

Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas)!




Short History of Emigration from Rhineland-Pfalz (Palatinate) to America

The first wave of emigration from Rhineland-Pfalz (Palatinate) took place after the 30 Year War (1618-1648) between the Protestants and Catholics.

The French took over the Palatinate and many other areas after the war in their quest to expand France as far as the left bank of the Rhine.

Louis XIV’ troops attacked and destroyed many of the towns in the area around Worms and other cities in the Palatinate.

In 1668-97 there was a war of succession for the Palatinate ‘Kurfurst’ (prince) after the reigning line ended. The war led to extreme destruction and the mass movement of people in the region. 

Religious persecution was also creating upheaval. The Huguenots were among the earliest to leave Mannheim in the Palatinate for New York in the 1660’s. Soon thereafter the Mennonites in the region joined the Quakers in Krefeld, who were led by William Penn, to resettle in Pennsylvania.

For those who stayed behind, the years 1701-1714 were bleak. During the War of Spanish Succession, the rulers demanded residents to pay expensive requisitions for their war. This came at a time of extreme weather and crop failure. For instance, in the winter of 1708/09, it was so cold that the wine was reported to have frozen in its barrels. In 1707, there had also been a hailstorm that ruined the entire wheat and wine crop. People were desperately poor and on the brink of ruin.

Collection Maggie Land Blanck

Many left. About 13,000 Palatinate residents went to England. Queen Anne was persuaded to send the ‘refugees’ to one of her colonies in Newburgh, NY. She quickly discovered that the demand was greater than the capacity to provide for all. Many were deported. Only 3,000 were shipped to America, and half of them died on the journey.

Prior to the American Revolution, about 100,000 Germans emigrated to the USA. Between 1727-1740, 80 ships arrived in Philadelphia. The next year 159 ships arrived. With a brief respite during the Seven Years War (Britain/France), emigration to the US resumed with another 88 ships before the end of the decade.

The conditions on the ships were abysmal. They were overcrowded, full of illness and danger. The 6 to 8 week crossing was completely dependent on the weather. When they finally arrived, the passengers were met by their employers upon docking. Families were broken up never to meet again.

The conditions for these workers were generally good, because the bosses were afraid that their indentured workers would otherwise run away. When the ‘script’ service time was completed, the new Americans were allowed to live freely.  They moved to cluster communities, where they continued to speak German. Between 1732-1800 there were at least 38 newspapers published in German in the US.

Emigration dwindled during the Revolution, but picked up afterwards. With the introduction of public schools in 1834, soon even the German churches were holding their services in English. Family names were increasingly anglicized. America was becoming known as the land of freedom and economic opportunity. Around 6 million Germans immigrated into the United States between 1820 and 1930.

Collection Maggie Land Blanck

Back in the Palatinate, there was a severe harvest failure in 1817, following the 1815 explosion of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. 1816 is called the ‘Year without a Summer’ in Europe.

Again people were on the move because of the agricultural and economic hardships. During this period, many from the Palatinate went to Brazil, which was actively promoting economic opportunities and land ownership. 

But by the 1830’s immigration to the USA had picked up again. Over 2 million Germans left for the USA between 1846 and 1873.

By this time, they weren’t just leaving for the opportunity of farming. The Industrial Revolution was firmly established and jobs in manufacturing were a new lure for emigrants.

Other reasons for the popularity of emigration to the USA:

° Extreme population growth after the French take-over of most areas in Germany along the west bank of the Rhine, including the Palatinate

° Better medical treatments and improved longevity

° New laws based on Napoleonic Code that made all children equal inheritors, leading to the break up of many family farms into smaller, less competitive agricultural units

° Trade freedom introduced by the French, leading to an over-supply of workers in traditional occupations

° The introduction of excise taxes by the local Palatinate government making it more expensive for farmers to export wheat, wine etc. to other German states.

Then two famine waves hit in 1846 and 1853 following harvest failures. Some local governments even paid to send families to the USA in order to reduce the number of poverty stricken dependents locally.

There were also political and religious and personal motivations for emigration; from running away from an unwanted marriage, to avoiding jail/bail, family infighting, military inscription, adventure etc. 

Bremen was one of the most important passage starting points by the 1830’s. Originally sent along with cargo shipments of tobacco, the passengers quickly become the main source of income for the shipping companies. By 1840, Bremen was shipping 20,000 people a year to the USA.

‘Auswanderbüros’ (emigration companies) recruited passengers, which is suggested as one motivation why some passengers went to avoid unpleasant  personal matters. 

In 1849 a law was passed to limit the number of passengers on the horribly overcrowded ships to about half of what they had been.

The ship costs of a passage at the time costed about 5,000 Taler, about $167,000 in today’s value. 

Sources:Aufbruch nach Amerika 1709-2009 – 300 Jahre Massenauswanderung aus Rheinland-Pfalz, Ausstellung m Theodor-Zink-museum Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern 2009 (=Schriften des Theodor-Zink-Museums 17)More information about German immigration from Bremen to USA:

75th Anniversary of Patton Crossing the Rhein

Late at night on March 22nd, 1945, General George S. Patton and some of his legendary Third Army crossed the Rhine River into central Germany. This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of this historic event – although due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, all events commemorating the crossing have been cancelled.

For a quick trip outside in the fresh air, and a chance to honor the occasion, Palatinate member Emily Ryan drove 30 minutes to the location of the monument in Nierstein, Rheinland-Palatinate (the state our chapter is named after).

March 22nd, 2020 – Palatinate Chapter member visits the commemorative site of Patton’s historic crossing of the Rhine.

This crossing was an important step in bringing the conflict to a close on May 8th, 1945. In fact, it was the first time an invading force had crossed the Rhein into Germany since Napoleon! You can read more about the day and how Patton channeled William the Conqueror in the article “Patton’s Entrance into Germany.

March 22nd, 2020 – (socially distanced) visitors read the German explanation of the commemoration site.

Celebrating Flag Day in Germany!

On June 29th, we celebrated our 10th annual Flag Day and Hot Dog picnic at the Oscar Mayer Memorial in Kosingen, Germany. With 21 attendees from both the Palatinate DAR and Zweibrücken CAR, it was a fun filled day! Vietnam Veteran, Ken Aungst, from the Ansbach American Legion Post, made meaningful remarks to open the celebration.

We also held a Flag Retirement ceremony, to show how you can symbolically cut the flag into 4 pieces, one piece for the field of blue with stars (never to be divided) and 3 pieces with the red and white stripes, in preparation for the Ansbach Scouts to complete the ceremony.

Memorial Ceremony at Lorraine American Cemetery

On May 26th, members from the Palatinate Chapter and friends met at the largest WWII American cemetery in Europe for their annual memorial ceremony. The town of St. Avold, France, along with the American Battle Monuments Commission and the American Memorial Day Committee hosted the event, attended by more than 100 French, Americans, Germans and more. The Lorraine American cemetery is located about 30 minutes over the border from Germany, near Saarbruecken.

Annual Fisher House Donation

On February 4th, the Chaplain of our chapter, Tiffin Fox, presented the Palatinate Chapter’s annual donation to the Landstuhl Fisher House at Ramstein Air Base.  The Fisher House provides a ‘home-away-from-home’ for families and patients who are receiving treatment at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. They take care of families of all service members in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We are very proud to support their efforts!

Kinder Graves decorated for Christmas

Girl Scouts Frankfurt Taunus and DAR Palatinate Chapter gathered together on the first day of December 2018 to give the American Children‘s Cemetery Frankfurt some holiday cheer.

With a little bird seed and a lot of festive singing; the two organizations for the first time joined in their service project hours.

Jo Cothran Ator, who is responsible for maintaining awareness of the Kinderfeld section of Frankfurt Main Cemetery, was grateful for the time that the our two groups took from their busy days to be together and sing Christmas carols.

I think the birds were happy too! As we left the Cemetery I could hear the chirps of the birds as they feasted on the recently filled feeders…

– Katherine Hansen (Palatinate Treasurer)

WWI Armistice Centennial

On the Centennial of the Armistice to end World War I, our chapter honored veterans at the largest American Cemetery from WWI in Europe, Meuse-Argonne, France. Not only did we pay respects to the fallen American, French and German soldiers but we also heard excerpts from the diary of a veteran of that same named battle in 1918 who is the great-grandfather of one of our members!